(Warning: This post contains some major spoilers surrounding Persona 4’s characters)
In the recent years, there’s been a weird decision within the video game company, Atlus, in order to broaden their target demographic. Said changes, which is perhaps the most noticeable in this regard, seems stems from the fact that many of their latest releases seems to be more, for the lack of better word, “anime” compare to the previous ones, starting from the Persona 3.
I’m not just simply talking about the transformation of their artstyle, but also on the portrayal of their character, which seems lean more to anime tropes, and the subject of their narrative. Whether it was the difficulty and/or the morality of adult relationship in Catherine, or the theme of death and how it ties into our high school experience in Persona 3.
But amongst those releases, Persona 4 is perhaps the most releases who’s anime-ism are pretty frontal. The characters that makes up the investigation team surrounding our main protagonist are an unabashed stereotypes of high school anime in recent memory. We have the hapless best friend, the tomboy, the yamato nadeshiko, the delinquent, the idol, the detective/awkward girl, and the mascot.
After further introspection however, I’d argue how the tropey-ness of the character are actually the most purposeful changes because it serves the central conceit of Persona 4’s narrative and not just simply for the fact that its useful for demographic broadening.
Persona 4, at it hearts, are about identity, personal truth and its consequences. And the way this was illustrated in our heroes was on how the game challenges the assumption surrounding their assign label, both the assumption of the player and the characters themselves about what they appears to be all about when the reality was something else. The game does this on multiple level and angle as well.
The first and simplest of them all are the assumption surrounding their assign archetype and the burden behind it. We see this through the portrayal of Yosuke, Rise and Teddie. All three of them use their every day facade as a way to cover up their insecurities and fear, with Yosuke’s inner boredom for having to stuck in a countryside, Rise’s who’s anxious about her real identity while taking on her presumed “fake” idol persona and Teddie’s darkest fear over the fact that he’s actually empty inside.
The second one is the assumption the character had over each others stereotype, which was illustrated through the relationship between Chie and Yukiko. Chie’s insecure about her own femininity because of her tomboy-ish outlook and because of it, to a degree, she’s jealous of Yukiko’s beauty. However, she secretly found relief in how Yukiko often rely on her for many things (hence the reasoning why her shadow are in the form of a dominatrix).
Meanwhile, Yukiko herself felt burden with the responsibility of being an heir of a well-known family inn. A responsibility which she thought she didn’t have any choice over and forced upon her without her consent. Yukiko admire Chie’s strong personality, which is why she secretly thought Chie to be the prince who could free from all of her responsibilities, all the while not realizing that Chie’s are insecure and admire Yukiko herself.
Last but not least however, was the assumption of their archetype and how it related to the society that’s surround them, and we see this in the portrayal of Kanji and Naoto.
When we first saw Kanji, we see him as a typical delinquent but-with-a soft-spot type of character. But as we find out in his dungeon, like almost with everyone else, its mask he puts on since his real hobby and interests is perceived as “unmanly”. The irony here is despite the fact that he took on a role of a social deviant, unbound and un-constraint by the rules of society, he himself is constraint by what the society expect out of his gender. With Naoto, we see in her dungeon how the thought of changing her gender crosses her mind since being a girl didn’t fit her ideal of what detective supposed to be and how much of her field work are predominantly male.